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Is this the first humpback to reach N Wales.

Byline: MELANIE HALL

A WHALE found entangled in rope off the North Wales coast was last night believed to be the first humpback spotted in the region.

The RSPCA, which helped rescue the whale, revealed the 30ft mammal dragged a buoy hundreds of miles from the north west coast of Ireland.

Experts initially thought the whale, discovered two weeks ago off Penrhyn Bay with its tail bound in thick rope, was a porpoise and then a minke.

But after studying photographs taken by the Daily Post's picture editor Richard Williams, the RSPCA's wildlife scientific officer Laila Sadler concluded it was a humpback.

The buoy, marked Heather Jane II, was yesterday traced to a crab pot on the continental shelf off north west Ireland.

Ms Sadler said it was unheard of to see a humpback whale in North Wales waters.

``It must have exerted huge amounts of energy as it dragged the buoy with it around Northern Ireland, '' she said.

``Each time the whale dived under, the buoy pulled upwards against it. ''

The terrified humpback was seen floundering with rope biting into its flesh by angler Tony Coughlan, .

The 64-year-old initially thought it was a porpoise.

Llandudno RNLI inshore lifeboat was scrambled to the scene at Angel Bay at 4. 40pm on February 3.

Tim James, 40, Nigel Forest, 43, and RSPCA inspector Mark Roberts were on board.

The team repeatedly experienced problems trying to free the whale which dived under the 16ft boat each time they approached.

With darkness falling the crew cut the rope about one and a half metres from the tail and watched the whale swim off in the hope it would loosen itself.

The number of humpbacks, an endangered species, have increased in the North Atlantic over recent years. They are thought to feed around Iceland and Greenland and migrate to the Caribbean and possibly Cape Verde Island to breed in the summer months.

The RSPCA officer said the incident demonstrated the dangers faced by whales.

``Although cetacean by catch is normally associated with images of dolphins entangled in nets, these roped buoys, often attached to lobster or crab pots, can tangle around a whale's tail or mouth and bite into their flesh, '' she said.

Dr John Goold, a whale and dolphin expert at Bangor university' school of ocean sciences, said: ``Finding a humpback, which can grow up to 50ft, in the Irish Sea in very rare, but we do get the odd minke now and again.

``I understand from various second-hand sources the the type of whale involved in the incident you are referring to hasn't been positively identified and that ropes taken from it have been sent away for DNA testing.

``I can't pinpoint any apparent reason for it having come so close to the coast of North Wales. It may have been a rogue animal chasing fish. ''

Dr Mandy McMath, a marine wildlife expert with the Countryside Council for Wales, said: ``Certainly it is incredibly rare to find a humpback. ''
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Article Details
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 18, 2005
Words:497
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